A Story Worth Reading

Chuang Tzu counseled us to keep an eye to both the great and the small.

In these days it is a difficult balancing act.

If we look at only the great, we are overwhelmed by the monstrous arrogance and indifference of the man in the White House and the impotence of those who would oppose him while a plague ravages our nation and the world.

If we look only at the small, we become morally myopic and disappear into a world of feel-good stories while the dark waters of cruelty and suffering rise around our ankles.

There must be a balance.

I hate (yes, there’s the word) how this whole situation of death and devastation has become politicized.  I can hardly stand to watch the nitwits brandishing guns on capitol steps, bellowing their infantile notions of freedom while old people are dying alone in nursing homes, separated from friends and families in their last moments.

These are cruel times and stupid times, and those of us of good heart can do little about either the cruelty or the stupidity.

And so I would like to offer you this little story from the Oregonian, our local newspaper here in the Portland area.  This is who we Americans are as a people.  This is who we should be, independent of politics and partisanship.

Read and enjoy.

Maria Ortiz never had seen the ocean. It was one thing she wanted to do before she died. A group of hospice workers and people of good will made it happen.

In simpler times, it would have been a simple request.

But with the novel coronavirus on the loose, times are not simple, even for a dying woman with one wish.

Maria Ortiz is a ward of the state. Her breast cancer is terminal. Her wish was to stand on a beach and for the first time look out at the ocean.

She landed at OHSU Hospital after being abandoned by someone who apparently had no wish to be identified.

She went into end-of-life care April 6 at Porthaven Healthcare Center, which is where the team from Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care came to know her.

Communication is difficult because of the stage of Ortiz’s illness. But some things are expressed without words. Ortiz is good-natured, smiles often and laughs easily.

“Maria touched so many of us because of her story,” says Allyson Snider, executive director at Seasons. “She had no family, no friends.

“Our social worker did a national search with her name, date of birth and Social Security number and literally could not find a single person. So, we became her family.”

The Seasons team had bits and pieces of Ortiz’s back story. She had come to Oregon from Texas more than 20 years ago. She had worked hard until becoming sick, losing her job and her housing.

In all of her 55 years on Earth, she had never seen an ocean, never stood in the sand, sniffed the salt air and watched the tide roll in.

“She had made it known in the course of her previous treatment that was really the one thing she would like to do,” says registered nurse Neal Donohue, Ortiz’s case manager.

“It struck us as a really fantastic opportunity to give something rewarding to her.”

If they could make it happen.

Oregon State Parks are closed. So are beach access points managed by Oregon Parks and Recreation. So are some beaches.

Snider and Donna Lawson-Koci, volunteer services coordinator for Seasons, wore out their phones trying to find a beach they could access legally.

“It wasn’t that they weren’t interested,” Lawson-Koci says. “But it was: ‘I’m sorry, the roads are closed.’ Or, ‘You can’t get access there.’”

And that’s how it stood until they reached Clatsop County manager Don Bohn, who must have figured there is an exception to every rule.

He pointed them to Sunset Beach, just off of U.S. 101 between Seaside and Warrenton. He said they could get a car close to the water there.

Bohn declined an interview request, responding by email: “If it was my daughter, I would do anything in my power to fulfill her wish.”

Now that Ortiz had a beach she could access, she needed a way to get there.

Lawson-Koci reached out to Lucky Limousine & Town Car Service, which is how Ortiz and Donohue wound up in a westbound town car on April 23 piloted by Lucky Limousine general manager Gregg Webber. Lucky basically donated the ride. Seasons dipped into the small fund it has for these things, but the hospice company’s share “was absolutely a pittance,” Lawson-Koci says.

The trip took some coordination.

“Maria is very ill,” Snider says. “We had to make sure she had the medications she needed, the equipment we could use to get her there. Everybody on our staff donated clothing to her – she had been homeless.”

Hospice patient Maria Ortiz was ferried from Portland to the Oregon Coast in a town car. (Seasons Healthcare Management)

Donohue says the trip over the Coast Range was quiet, Ortiz wide-eyed and taking it all in. When they reached Sunset Beach, she spent a long time staring out at the horizon and listening to the waves.

Then, she smiled.

Someday, Ortiz will take her last breath. Because she is indigent with no known next of kin, her body normally would be cremated, the remains stored for a period of time. If left unclaimed, they would be cheaply disposed of in an environmentally friendly way.

That wasn’t good enough for Lawson-Koci. She arranged for free cremation through Threadgill’s Memorial Services.

Then Ortiz’s ashes will be spread on Sunset Beach.



19 thoughts on “A Story Worth Reading”

  1. Thank you Kent. One day we will emerge from this horror show presented by the Republicans in Washington D.C. and stories like these will be part of the new regime’s daily communications – not the lies and ignorant statements we hear now.

  2. Evelyn Jackson

    Well…that made me cry! Great group of people to give a dying woman her last wish.

  3. A wonderful bright spot for today. Thank you for sharing a “light” during such gloomy times.

  4. Thank you! I needed something to remind me of how beautiful humans can be when they act from a place of Love! Blessings for you on your path!

  5. Earnest Williams

    Thank you for this beautiful story of human compassion. May we enter a new era when we move past Covid 19. An era of compassion and caring. Moving past the circus of the absurd in DC.

  6. Linda Daniels

    Hi Kent: The lady was treated with high honors and respect by Seasons Hospice. Exactly how Hospice works. A last wish.
    Beautifully written. And description of the whole experience is excellent.
    This experience could be part of Season Hospice volunteer training.
    Thanks for sharing.

  7. Christopher Vardas

    In my limited experience, I have learned that good people rise to the occasion. Bravery and courage emerge when we reach into the pool of love and caring.
    Great story. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Tonia Farrar

    This story gave me hope for a tomorrow as does your writing. How can we enlarge our circle of kindness and gratitude for a quick, exquisite moment on this earth before it is destroyed? Gather, chant, bow? Reach up,out and in. Hold someone’s hand you have nothing in common with and promise them you will help keep them safe.

  9. The story put Maria in my neighborhood, five miles up the beach from my front door. Stories like this should not be rare, they should be the rule. Perhaps in a country where you don’t have to belong to a particular persuasion to find acceptance it would be the rule. I have nothing against guns, per se, but I do take umbrage at the clueless idiots who wave them as talismans of freedom.

    Also in the Oregonian (Oregonlive), I recommend a wonderful piece on my friend Kim Stafford, the outgoing Oregon Poet Laureate. Follow this link:


  10. Cheryl Patton

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. My mother was a resident of an adult family home that was home to six elderly women all in need of round the clock care that is provided by dedicated care givers. Mother died two weeks ago, and because of restrictions I was not able to be with her until her last hours. However, what breaks my heart is the insensitivity and lack of concern many in positions of power and protesters seem to have for our most vulnerable, for folks like my mom. How many lives are we willing to give up in order to go fishing, shopping, or sunbathing at the shore? It is uplifting to read about some truly compassionate folks that provided a lovely last wish for someone they scarcely knew. This story brought me to tears, tears for the loss of my mom and tears for a fractured country.

  11. Leadership is not fulfilled by projecting a menacing, impatient poise. The transparency of arrogant (in)actions is not “fake news” that the unapologetically ignorant can gloss over. Preposterous, angry loudness by many is obviously a neurotic compensation for perverting the shared re-Source of All beings. Maria’s solitary circumstances paradoxically unites many human beings caring to respond to her vulnerability with heartfulness. So, she finally inhales the grandeur of the Pacific with all of her being. KUDOS to everyone that reaffirmed she is a VIP.

  12. this is a sad, beautiful story of the real humanity live in most of us. Sad again that we all don[‘t embellish this sentiment to our fellow earthly travelers.
    Thanks from Omaha

  13. Jenny Pitkin

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story. I would like to reassure you that we do not see your leader in the White House as representative of most Americans.

  14. Thanks for your faith that all Americans are not like the monstrous man in the White House. It would be easier if America was not such a lumbering presence in the world. One of the joys of traveling out of the country is to lose that incredible weight of American responsibility and realize that there are countries that can think primarily within their own borders. Alas, we can’t. And so when something as lethal as Mr.Trump surfaces, it is lethal to the whole world and it is hard not to feel some responsibility and need to apologize. Again, thank you for understanding.

  15. Jenny Pavlovic

    Thank you Kent. All we really have is each other, especially with a failing government that lacks any compassion for the people. We can still shine our lights on each other.

  16. I feel so, so sad over our “war with each other” and the lack of common decency, respect, truth and integrity. I have reread your writings often during these last two months. Your books give me hope that the beauty of the human spirit is alive and in time will be reborn. Thank you for sharing another such beautiful story of kindness, love and respect for every life.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top